Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 71(4) November 2021

Our duty of care:
Healthcare professionals opposing assisted suicide & euthanasia

Duty of Care

”Our Duty of Care” did a huge amount of work in the run up to the debate in the House of Lords on the Meacher Bill and we are, of course, hugely grateful to them for all they have done and are doing.
Our duty of care is a group of UK healthcare workers who oppose the intentional killing of patients by assisted suicide or euthanasia. We are a campaign that is financed and administered by the Care Not Killing alliance.

Our duty of care is supported by a wide range of healthcare professionals, and has campaigned during the membership polls run by the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of General Practitioners and British Medical Association to maintain medical opposition to assisted suicide. Visit their website at

Here is their open letter to the Health Secretary.

Gillian WrightAs healthcare professionals, we have a legal duty of care for the safety and wellbeing of our patients. We write with great concern regarding the introduction of a Bill to legalise assisted suicide.

The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised

The prohibition of killing is present in almost all civilised societies due to the immeasurable worth of every human life. Everyone has a right to life under Article 1 of The Human Rights Act 1998 such that no one should be deprived of that life intentionally.

It is impossible for any government to draft assisted suicide laws which include legal protection from future extension and expansion of those laws. Canada has clearly demonstrated that safeguards can be eroded in a matter of just five years. The prohibition of killing is the safeguard. The current law is the protection for the vulnerable. Any change would threaten society’s ability to safeguard vulnerable patients from abuse, it would undermine the trust the public places in physicians, and it would send a clear message to our frail, elderly and disabled patients about the value that society places on them as people.

Far from one person’s decision affecting no one else, it affects us all. Some patients may never consider assisted suicide unless it was suggested to them. The cruel irony of this path is that legislation introduced with the good intention of enhancing patient choice will diminish the choices of the most vulnerable. 1 in 60 deaths in Belgium now occur with no consent from the patient – those in coma, confused, or the elderly – are euthanised because their lives are considered not ‘worth living’.

We would not take patients’ lives – even if they asked us to – but for the sake of us all, and for future generations, we ask that the law remains unchanged.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Gillian Wright, MD MPhil,
Researcher in Medical Ethics,
Our duty of care, Glasgow.


What do our colleagues say about assisted suicide?

“Although I have cared for thousands of patients with cancer, I have not had any requests for euthanasia. With the help of expert palliative care, symptoms can be well controlled towards the end of life. I am also mindful of the problems associated with euthanasia and assisted suicide, not least that doctors are far from perfect at predicting survival. Only today, I came across a patient alive and well years after having been told that he had just months to live. I don’t want to minimise the distress that some of us will feel as we approach death, but I believe thatthe priority should be to make high quality palliative care freely available to all who need it”

Professor Chris Parker.
Consultant Oncologist, London

A person dies every minute in the UK. The over­whelming majority die peacefully, including those with terminal cancer and progressive neurological diseases. Seeking to change the current law, which serves the majority well, for the essentially selfish motives of a minority would require healthcare professionals to abandon their vocational calling to do no harm. Whilst we all share a terminal prognosis, the desire to live prevails even in the face of disability and disease, unless we have untreated depressive illness. To pretend that killing is better than relieving suffering and protecting the vulnerable is irrational. Our common goal is a health service that cares and protects. Palliative care delivers this, assisted suicide and euthanasia do not.”

Prof Anthony Bell
Emeritus Professor of Neurosurgery, London

"Patient autonomy is rightly revered. Doctors should value and respect their patients. But the principle from which autonomy is derived– the respect for another human being– is that which also underpins the prohibition of the taking of life. What do we do when taking life clashes with patient autonomy? It seems to me, for a community to flourish we must, at times, choose to give up our individual autonomy for the sake of us all. Some individual suffering is terrible as well as prolonged and we question if there is any other way. But the value and worth of all human life must restrain us, as a society, from taking life. Responsibility to and for others is the very stuff of friendship and family, of the doctor-patient relationship, of society itself."

Gillian Wright
Researcher in Medical Ethics, Glasgow

Phillipa Knaggs"My interactions with vulnerable older people make me concerned about a change in the law on assisted suicide. Even if on paper the safeguards seem secure and straightforward, life, death and autonomy are much more nuanced. There would be an inevitable change in attitude towards those nearing the end of life. Terminally ill people who would otherwise not have considered suicide suddenly have to make a choice, at a time when a change in circumstances likely intensifies any feeling that they are a burden to others. Healthcare profes­sionals who in any other circumstance would have attempted to help someone with suicidal thoughts would be obliged to validate this state of mind, even if that were only by onward referral."

Dr Phillipa Knaggs GP, West Yorkshire

“If anyone were in any doubt about the risk of covert or silent coercion of vulnerable adults, they should look at the placement of older people, including those with dementia, in care homes. Many older people give up their homes to live in institutions because they perceive (rightly or wrongly) that others wish them to do so. Some regret the decision; and those with dementia (where the assessment of capacity can be difficult) are often hardly involved in such decisions. Lonely, sick and disabled older people may well succumb (especially where the resources to care are scarce) to the suggestion that they should accept physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, but this may well not reflect their true choices.”

Prof Julian HughesProfessor of Old Age Psychiatry, Bristol

“Not Dead Yet highlights the voice of disabled people who want support to live with dignity and respect and are terrified of the campaign to change the law on Assisted Suicide"

Zeynab Al-Khero
Researcher, Not Dead Yet

"The prohibition of killing is the safeguard.
The current law is the protection for the vulnerable.
Dr Gillian Wright (Tweeted)